Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway ended up with a familiar sight: Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team celebrating in Victory Lane. But it didn’t feature him leading the most laps, running up front all afternoon and dominating the 500-miler.
The 334-lap Bank of America 500 from the 1.5-mile quad-oval was Truex Jr.’s sixth victory of the season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, 13th of his career and second at Charlotte.
THIS ONE WAS DIFFERENT
Martin Truex Jr.’s victories are pretty textbook: start inside the top five (probably on the front row), win a stage or two, lead the most laps, and wind up in the winner’s circle. But the Bank of America 500 was completely different than the other five wins he’s had this season.
He didn’t lead the most laps, he didn’t win the first two stages and he didn’t start up front. The No. 78 took the green flag (which fell one hour earlier than scheduled due to inclement weather in the area) in 17th, his worst starting position since Daytona in July, where he started 25th. He only led 91 laps and ended up finishing outside the top 10 in stage one, failing to earn a stage point for the first time since that same Daytona race. But then, they went to work.
“We qualified horribly, and I was mad about it,” said Truex Jr. of his 17th-place starting position on Sunday afternoon. “(Crew chief) Cole (Pearn) was mad about it and in 20 minutes we’re like ‘Alright, I think this is where we went wrong.’ And he’s like ‘Yeah, that’s where we went wrong. We screwed up, we’ll get them Sunday.’”
On lap 234 with 100 laps remaining from CMS, Truex Jr. was on the bumper of Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford, and was gone in an instant. He assumed the lead from there after a round of green flag pit stops and never really looked back. His pit crew had a big hand in helping MTJ grave Victory Lane once again, as they didn’t lose spots a single time throughout the event.
“Unbelievable win. Just a total team effort,” Truex Jr. told NBC following the victory. “Every guy on this team just did a perfect job today—and I can’t be more proud of them. You dream about days like today. I don’t know if we had the best car, but we damn sure got it in Victory Lane.”
Following Martin Truex Jr. across the finish line in second place was Chase Elliott. For the second consecutive weekend and the sixth time in his MENCS career, he was the runner-up.
“It was a hard-fought day and really, from where we were in those middle stages,” Elliott told NBCSN following his second-place run. “I was proud of the way we fought back and were able to get back to the front. It’s frustrating to run like this. We’re definitely tired of running second. But, if we keep running like we are, hopefully the opportunities will be there.”
Kevin Harvick won the first two stages, but wound up coming home in third place. Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five, which was all playoff contenders. Daniel Suarez, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson capped off the top 10 drivers, with Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. coming home in 11th and 12th, respectively.
Some other notable finishers included Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 13th, Brad Keselowski in 15th, Erik Jones in 17th, Kurt Busch in 22nd (late race spin), Joey Logano in 26th, Kyle Busch in 29th (multiple issues) and Ryan Newman in 40th (crash in stage one).
HARVICK DOESN’T CLOSE
Kevin Harvick led 149 laps, the most in the field on Sunday afternoon, and both stages one and two to boot. But he couldn’t live up to his nickname as “The Closer” and win the race.
“I would get close, and then I would get loose, and as the day went I just got looser on the entrance to the corners,” said Harvick of his battle with eventual race-winner Martin Truex Jr. “The car started bouncing really bad and started losing grip as the (PJ1) went away and kind of lost what I had at the beginning of the race – to arc it into the corner and do all the things I needed to do to get through the middle of the corner and be in the throttle.”
Harvick’s lane was right in the sticky substance—up high. Not the extreme high lane, but about one lane up from the middle. The substance wouldn’t be conducive to the quickest laps throughout the race. And that’s why Martin Truex Jr. eventually caught and passed Harvick.
“I knew where I was running was kind of questionable as to how long it would last,” the Bakersfield, California native said of his racing line throughout the afternoon around Charlotte Motor Speedway. “And the entry was the first part that gave up for me, and I just had to be really cautious getting in there. That’s why I lost my speed from the first half of the race.”
KYLE TOUGHS IT OUT
The box score will show that Kyle Busch led 22 laps on Sunday, but his race included everything but feeling like the leader. He hit the wall on lap 135 and damaged the right side of his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota. But in doing so, the crush panels on his car were damaged so much so that all the fumes were seeping into the cockpit, and clean air was few and far between.
“I’m better now,” Busch said upon exiting the infield care center to NBC, whose carbon monoxide levels were in the double digits. “It just got so hot, that literally, you felt like you were going to puke and just trying to make it to the end of the race and luckily we did. And from there, just trying to get cooled back down and get my body temperature back to normal.”
Busch told his team over the radio about midway through the race that he would need medical attention upon exiting the car—and he was right. He immediately went to the ground next to his car and laid down and received medical attention before going to the infield care center.
“I felt like I had heatstroke just from being inside the race car for 200 laps with the crush panels knocked out of it,” said Busch. “Overall, it was just the hottest I’ve been in the car. I didn’t feel sick from the CO or anything like that. I just felt heatstroke.”
QUIET, TOP 10 DAYS FOR GANASSI
Don’t look now, but Kyle Larson wasn’t the highest finishing Chip Ganassi Racing car on Sunday—and he wasn’t the quickest overall throughout the entirety of the race, either.
That honor belonged to Jamie McMurray, who came home fifth. His teammate and three-time winner this season in Larson came home 11th after Kurt Busch got loose underneath the No. 42, which forced the Elk Grove, California native to fall back with under 10 laps to go a tad.
Larson also wasn’t helped by himself or his pit crew. He missed his pit box entirely once and had a slower stop when his tire carrier slipped and fell during another. But McMurray, who hasn’t won a race this season, was able to quietly and impressively finish in the top five.
“We had probably the fastest car at the beginning,” McMurray told NBC following his seventh top 10 finish of the season on an intermediate track. “This is a really good track for me. Every year we seem to run well here. Our cars have been awesome this year. I had really good pit stops. We had everything going for us. Just need to line up in the correct lane on the restarts and have those first good two or three laps. Overall just a solid day.”
COLLAR GETTING TIGHT
After race one of the Round of 12, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth are the four that sit below the cut line to transfer to the Round of 8. But with Talladega and Kansas on the horizon, anything can, and usually does, happen to multiple playoff drivers.
Jamie McMurray has a one point cushion on Kenseth and holds the eighth and final transfer spot. Jimmie Johnson is eight points to the good, with Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson feeling relatively comfortable leaving Charlotte.
But the playoffs are conducive to high pressure situations, and high pressure situations are conducive to drivers, albeit the best in the world, making mistakes, and mistakes being made translate into major shifts in the points standings. It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again.
Stenhouse Jr. is heading to ‘Dega, where he has already won this season and is considered a favorite to win again. Kenseth has visited Victory Lane at Kansas and ‘Dega before, Keselowski dominated restrictor plate tracks two years ago and Blaney has great power under the hood. What am I trying to say, basically? Although the points might not show it: it’s wide open.
Talladega Superspeedway has been talked about for 51 weeks, and now it’s time to finally get to Alabama and settle who comes home with the hardware, and who goes home on a wrecker.
The 49th annual Alabama 500 is scheduled to go green at approximately 2:20 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 15 with television coverage on NBC. Joey Logano is the defending winner of that event, but all eyes will be on Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his final career start at ‘Dega.